2016-06-30 / Front Page

Coming in waves

Residents decry federal inactivity in Camp Ellis erosion
By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer


Left, a sign posted at Ferry Beach warns visitors to stay off sand dunes where Geotube marine structures have been placed to prevent soil erosion. Below, ocean waves splash against the Ferry Beach Geotubes. Saco residents are upset that a draft plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to remedy the erosion problem has not been finally approved or funded. The corps proposes to build a jetty spur off of the existing spur, and replenish the soil with nearly 400,000 cubic yards of sand and an additional 200,000 cubic yards 12 years later. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Left, a sign posted at Ferry Beach warns visitors to stay off sand dunes where Geotube marine structures have been placed to prevent soil erosion. Below, ocean waves splash against the Ferry Beach Geotubes. Saco residents are upset that a draft plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to remedy the erosion problem has not been finally approved or funded. The corps proposes to build a jetty spur off of the existing spur, and replenish the soil with nearly 400,000 cubic yards of sand and an additional 200,000 cubic yards 12 years later. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) SACO – At a “City Hall in Your Neighborhood” meeting June 21 at Ferry Beach, neighbors expressed their disappointment that little has been done to mitigate soil erosion at Camp Ellis and Ferry Beach.

Mark Habel, a project manager for the northeastern district of the Army Corps of Engineers, gave an overview of its plans to build a spur jetty extending north off the existing jetty.

In 2013, the corps published a draft report recommending the spur be built, which would interrupt wave erosion, and 365,000 cubic yards of sand from higher elevation be placed onto the beach. The sand would need to be replenished every 11 to 12 years. The city and corps would share the cost of renourishment until the corps depleted its budget for the project, after which the city would assume the total cost of replenishing sand.

The U.S. Congress in 2007 raised the cost limit for the project to $26.9 million, including design costs the corps has spent in recent years, project construction and the cost of sand renourishment. Habel said money spent to date on the project is being calculated.

Habel said one reason there hasn’t been much activity since the corps released its draft report is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service held up approval because of potential threats to endangered species.


Sand is piled above the rim of street barricades along North Avenue in Saco. The city fills new sand in Camp Ellis annually and after major storms, to help prevent soil erosion. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) Sand is piled above the rim of street barricades along North Avenue in Saco. The city fills new sand in Camp Ellis annually and after major storms, to help prevent soil erosion. (Ben Meiklejohn photo) “It was nothing to do with the piping plover,” Habel said. “It was bunnies and bats. They’re concerned about the New England red-haired bunny or longhorn bat, which may or may not be inhabiting where we may use (to build the jetty spur).”

Saco City Administrator Kevin Sutherland said he doesn’t know where the corps would get granite and stone material to build the spur but it would likely be from out of state. Habel did not respond by the Courier’s deadline as to whether a particular site had been identified for material to use for contructing the spur.

Habel said the corps finally came to an agreement with the service to “kick the can down the road for surveying quarries for bunnies and bats.”

Sutherland said the sand used to replenish the shoreline would be dredged from the Saco River, except that the Saco River dredging project, another corps project, has also not yet been approved.

Sutherland said the city places sand on the shoreline every year and after major storms. Public Works Deputy Director Christoper Gallant said the city puts out bids for annual filling of sand and Shaw Brothers Construction is the current contractor, and brings sand from its Dayton pit.

Habel said other issues have held up the Army Corps project.

“Then we came into a quandary in our own office,” Habel said. “We had been proceeding for over a decade with the idea that under Section 11, that cost was 100 percent federal. Then somebody in (Washington) D.C., changed their mind, saying the city should pay for half of it. Some people in D.C. have come around to our way of thinking that that’s not really fair or appropriate, some not. We got an agreement to accept the final report without having (funding) resolved.”

Habel said the corps is now in the process of approving the final report drafted in 2013, and the report should be approved by the corps during this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

“After that, I don’t want to speculate on how long D.C. will take to do anything,” he added.

Sutherland said once the final report is in D.C., the city will want to step up lobbying efforts with the U.S. congressional delegation.

Mayor Roland Michaud asked what the cost would be to replenish the soil every 12 years and if replenishment would need to happen in perpetuity.

Sutherland said each soil renourishment would cost $2 million to $3 million. Habel said the soil would “hopefully” be stabilized after three or four replenishments.

“The corps’ jetty is the problem, but to put the community on the hook every 12 years isn’t too bad, but every 100-year storm is going to set us back. This is one of the things we’ll continually have to face that we’ll be doing,” Michaud said. “It’s their jetty. They created the problem. They ought to maintain it.”

Habel said the plan calls for putting 365,000 cubic yards of sand at Camp Ellis, but future replenishments of soil every 12 years would only need to import 200,000 cubic yards of sand, until the soil stabilized. Habel said planting dune grass was not part of the corps’ plan because “piping plovers don’t like vegetation.”

“Maybe the plovers should pay taxes,” quipped a member of the audience.

Another resident expressed frustration that the Saco River dredging project has also not been approved.

“Congress has to allocate the resources,” Sutherland said. “The question is, why do other states have more money to dredge their rivers?”

The subject of suing the corps, which was discussed at a recent city council meeting, was also raised by residents at the neighborhood meeting.

“A suit is not an inexpensive solution,” Michaud said. “My preference is working with the Army Corps. However, there comes a time that it becomes unrealistic. They have the same thing we do, a funding issue. There comes a time when we got to make a decision.”

“I’d like to get this report finalized and in D.C. before the community picks up its shovels and pitchforks and torches,” Sutherland added.

“I just got to tell you as a resident, every year that goes by, we lose a foot, lose a half foot – these are our homes,” said Seaside Avenue resident Kevin Sanborn. “Something is better than nothing. The fact that this keeps getting caught in red tape is concerning. There’s taxes we’re getting from shorefront property.

“I’m trying to understand, is there a sense of urgency here to get something done? It just doesn’t feel like it. What can we do to help?”

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